Florida State University has agreed to pay $950,000 to settle a federal Title IX lawsuit brought by a former student who accused quarterback Jameis Winston of sexually assaulting her in 2012. The school is on the hook for around another $1.7 million in legal fees. According to the Tampa Bay Times’s Matt Baker, the state of Florida’s risk management fund will cover the settlement to the accuser and her attorneys, and $421,000 of the defense fees.
Here’s the twist: The remaining $1.3 million will be paid by FSU’s booster club.
To clarify, Baker reports that the money will come not from individual donations to the booster club, but from its business operations – “things like licensing, concessions and gift shop sales.” And it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $7.6 million in program revenue and $35.5 million in total revenue the boosters raised during the 2013-14 fiscal year.
Still, it doesn’t sit well that the NCAA would allow booster dollars to cover something like this, given the litany of more benign things that for which using booster money has resulted in sanctions, like paying for players’ food and clothes.
There’s also the question of what the boosters get out of agreeing to the payment — one asked by Jessica Luther, who has extensively covered sexual assault in college football and is also an FSU alumna. If you believe all the stories of booster largesse through the years throughout big-time sports schools, the question seems naïve, even if the answer is rather cynical. A booster club paying to make a rape scandal go away is not an infraction while a booster sending some money to a college kid’s mother is. Those are #NCAAValues.
The reason for this two-tier treatment is built on the NCAA’s distinction between the university and individual players. Its commitment to “amateurism” has created a system in which the boosters can financially support the university, but not the athletes themselves. Schools have been penalized for boosters providing free legal advice to players, yet here we have boosters covering the services of legal counsel to the university. While it’s certainly better that academic funds aren’t being used in this case, it still signals a system of misplaced values at the institution of college sports over the men and women who drive them.
This case highlights another inconsistency in the way business is done in college sports, and the unseemly relationship big-time athletics has to universities. Winston’s accuser was suing FSU under Title IX, for failing to adequately investigate her rape charges. Because it was the university and not the athletic department conducting the investigation, the football team itself had no responsibility in to discipline Winston. He was never suspended and went on to win the Heisman Trophy, a national championship, and become the top pick in the NFL Draft.
Given the institutional incompetence shown during Winston’s conduct hearing, and the less-than-kosher relationship between campus security and the Tallahassee Police Department, you can see why the university settled the case. You can also see how immensely profitable it was to the university for the team not to have to take responsibility for its embattled star quarterback while he was on campus.
Placing that disciplinary burden on the university allowed the team to rack up the wins and accolades, for which the Seminole Boosters are now paying — $1.3 million to be exact.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.
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